I had a blessed surprise right before Christmas. I was celebrating Mass at St. Thomas More Middle/High School and three young adults, STM alumni home from college, came to Mass several days in a row at 7:15 a.m.
I was not expecting this, especially given the recent crisis in our church. The constant barrage of news stories about sexual abuse by even high-ranking clergy, and how some bishops have mishandled the repeated allegations of abuse, have caused many to question both the church and her leaders’ ability to shepherd and lead.
To see three young college students home for Christmas break and at daily Mass roused in my heart a sense of hope and joy. I shared with them what seeing them at daily Mass did for my heart.
I asked them what it is like to be a believing, practicing young adult Catholic at this challenging moment in the church. All three shared that this has been a difficult time for them. Madison Feist said it has been hard to accept but, at the same time, she is grateful that the church is accepting the reality of the past and wants to make things better.
Corbin Olson has found his own faith being tested and Dillon Johnson continues to pray for clarity in the church. He added, “The Eucharist gives me the strength to continue defending our Catholic faith, even in times of trial.”
In fact, all three shared with me that it is their love of the Eucharist that brings them to Mass.
“In the Eucharist, I am united with Jesus who brings me eternal joy. The Eucharist unites the world together, and when I receive the Eucharist, I think of family members, friends, faculty and all the people who have impacted my faith journey. Mass unites me to my foundation in Christ,” Madison said.
Corbin added, “Christ’s light will always shine. I find myself looking for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour to spend with our Savior in adoration, and I push myself to attend daily Mass because, in all of this, I am searching for his light. God is ever-present, but he is waiting for us to accept him into our lives. I have realized in the past couple of months that I have to make an effort to call on him in the easiest and most difficult of times. We must be willing to put absolute faith and trust in him.”
As I visited with these three young adults who are practicing their faith in these trying times in our church, my heart was drawn to our seminarians: What is it like to be in the seminary at this moment in time?
Max Vetch, a sophomore at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, shared, “It is a strange thing to hear about these cases on the news or from other seminarians from their diocese, but it all kind of changes when it is from your own diocese. I am just as confused and angry as everyone else is. What is most frustrating is that these things happen in almost every diocese.
“At the seminary, we are very aware of everything going on, even if we turn off the news and don’t look at social media. The faculty at IHM is very focused on making good, holy men, and this can only be done through a good awareness of self and the world around us.
“So we visit about these things — both my brother seminarians and the faculty. We discuss it so that we can grow in holiness. Many people would think that these cases are a deterrent from the seminary, but for the men at IHM, I haven’t seen that at all. The seminarians at IHM are there to discern a vocation given them by God, and no problem or scandal can take that calling away.”
Robert Kinyon, a first-year theologian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome told me, “The recent sexual abuse crisis has been deeply saddening. On a number of different occasions, it has shaken my trust in the church, especially those who are in particularly authoritative positions.
“Despite all the disheartening and frustrating news, Jesus Christ remains the same. He is still laboring to love me during every moment of every day. Jesus, the head, has not and will not abandon his body, the church.
“I am continuing my formation for priesthood because Jesus Christ continues to lavish his love upon me and his entire church, as broken and wounded as we may be. Before all else, we must tear open our hearts to receive an outpouring of his personal love.”
Father Paul Hoesing, dean of seminarians and director of human formation at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, shared with me his perception of the climate of seminary life at this time.
“I believe a very healthy, righteous anger has been awakened in these scandals. As a result, there has been no better time to address the tough issues of mental health, chastity and psycho-sexual development.
“The scandals reveal what is at stake. Only a truly healthy priest can serve the people of God. The people of God are weary. They deserve good shepherds.
“The scandals reveal the need for a truly spousal life on the part of the priest — priests who are willing to lay down their lives for their bride, the church. Otherwise, the priesthood is seen as a strange or dangerous bachelorhood.
“I see our young men eager to move into a new and vigorous courage in this regard. For the sake of the victims and the bride, the church, the men are responding with a new level of honesty and generosity in answering the question, ‘Where is your heart?’
“It’s been a privilege to witness the Spirit at work in this opportune moment for young men to respond more clearly and maturely.”
Despite the difficulties in our Catholic Church today, the faith is alive in the hearts of our young people and in young men studying for the priesthood, which should renew all of our hearts.
I am grateful for this early Christmas gift I received in the witness of Madison, Dillon and Corbin, our seminarians, Max and Robert, and the hopeful and challenging words of Father Hoesing.